Before hitting trail, make sure to check forecast
Not much stands between Pete Lardy and treks in the high country, but when the hairs on his arms shoot up – that’s when he starts to hurry down.
“When you’re up there, storms build way faster than you think and all of a sudden you’re right in the middle of it,” said Lardy, who owns Pikes Peak Alpine School in Colorado Springs.
So while the dangers of snowy summits are melting away quickly, hikers of Colorado’s fourteeners aren’t out of the woods, particularly with the looming threat of lightning strikes. That’s why Lardy says that checking the forecast is as important as tying your shoes.
The National Weather Service unveiled a Web page a few months ago dedicated to the state’s 14,000-foot peaks where hikers can find detailed information about specific areas in Colorado. Another resource, mountain-forecast.com, provides weather reports and forecasts for various elevations on peaks around the world, including Blodgett Peak, Cameron Cone, Cheyenne Mountain and Mount Rosa in the Pikes Peak region.
“It’s that time of year; lightning and rain can show up quickly and be a big hazard,” said Pamela Evenson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pueblo. “A lot of hikers come from out of state and don’t realize how much weather can change in a span of hours.”
With El Paso County averaging about 27,500 lightning strikes each year, getting caught near the top of Pikes Peak as a storm approaches is far from ideal.
“When you start to see signs of lightning, it’s not a funny thing,” Lardy said.
That’s Bobby Mikulas’ primary worry when he sets out to hike fourteeners.
“It’s more serious than folks think, and it’s easy to get near-sighted near the summit and make a decision that could cost you,” said Mikulas, an avid hiker who runs the Springs branch of Gociety, a Denver-based social networking site. “I remember getting caught in 17-degree weather only yards from the summit of a fourteener in mid-July one year. Let’s just say I got pretty friendly with my climbing partner until the sun rose to warm the temps.”
Still, Lardy never would tell you to stay home.
“Don’t get shut down by what the weather report says,” he said. “It doesn’t mean don’t go out; it means to be prepared and know what you’re getting yourself into.”
He suggests starting “head lamp” early, packing rain gear, researching the route and getting plenty of sleep.
“We want to go out and enjoy the outdoors,” Lardy said. “Sometimes part of the outdoors is the storms.”
Mikulas said it’s best to be off the summit by 11 a.m. and don’t be shy about turning around early.
“Know your limits,” he said. “When I head to the hills, I am aiming to interact with the beauty and awe of the mountains, not conquer them.”
Mikulas and Lardy agree that a simple check of the weather can be a game- changer.
“I’ve been in lightning storms that come on so fast that you get surprised by them,” Lardy said. “There’s not much that you can do once the storms are there.”
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